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Should You Complete Background Checks On Your Applicants?

August 17th, 2012

Hiring a new employee can be a significant act of trust. Depending on the level of responsibility you place in the employee’s hands, he or she may be able to make or break the success of a small business, so hiring managers usually want all the facts before they make an offer. But be careful. Before you decide to dig deeply into a candidate’s background, keep these considerations in mind.

When is it Okay to Investigate an Applicant’s Record?

Potential employees have a right to privacy, and in many cases, this right is protected by law. If you violate or attempt to violate a candidate’s privacy rights, you could find yourself facing lawsuits, criminal charges, fines, or worse. If in doubt, the best way to protect yourself is to explain clearly which aspects of an applicant’s background you intend to investigate, and then obtain the applicant’s written and signed permission. This will give the candidate a chance to withdraw her application if she wants to. Meanwhile, limit your inquiries to those which:

1. Are clearly relevant to the job. If your employee will be carrying a gun, you may want to conduct a criminal background check. If your candidate will be working with children, you may want to investigate any past allegations or convictions related to child abuse. If your candidate will be driving while on the job, you can contact your state department of motor vehicles to obtain her driving records. But if the check isn’t relevant to the position, think twice.

2. Won’t expose you to accusations of discrimination if you decide not to make an offer. Some employers decide to request medical records in order to determine an employee’s ability to perform certain job duties. The Americans With Disabilities Act allows employers to ask only about specific, job-related capabilities, and forbids the examination of an applicant’s medical records. Also, employers may not make hiring or promotion decisions based on a candidate’s disability.

Regarding financial information, it’s unwise to investigate a candidate’s history of bankruptcy, since federal law prohibits making hiring decisions based on this information. Credit checks are also unwise, since the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires written consent from the applicant before releasing credit reports, and also allows the employee to formally challenge any hiring decisions based on credit information.

3. Are reasonable and not overzealous. Aggressive background checks may seem like a form of risk mitigation. But without written consent for every aspect of your investigation, they actually expose your company to higher levels of risk in the form of lawsuits and backlash. Err on the side of caution, and perform background investigations only when they’re absolutely necessary.

Make sure you understand all federal and state laws related to privacy rights before you launch an investigation into a candidate’s school records, financial records, military history, or any other aspect of her past. If you need help with your research or have additional questions about employee background checks, contact your local recruitment agency in Connecticut at Merritt Staffing for more information.

 

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